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Semeru volcanic eruption in Indonesia kills 14, dozens injured

Search for victims continues after volcano on Java threw up hot clouds and ash that blanketed villages

SUMBERWULUH, INDONESIA: The eruption of Indonesia's Semeru volcano has killed at least 14 people and injured dozens, the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said yesterday, as search teams looked for victims in a landscape covered in deep layers of ash.

Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic.

The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, the authorities said.

A BNPB official said yesterday that 14 people had been killed. Fifty-six were injured and 1,300 have been evacuated.

Most injuries were burns.

In the Sumberwuluh area, thick, grey ash coated damaged houses, while volunteers tried to turn away motorists who wanted to go to their homes near Semeru, a Reuters witness said.

In a barren landscape covered in ash, homes were almost completely covered, and a truck had only the top of the driver's cab visible.

Some villagers fleeing their homes managed to take livestock with them, but a dead cow was left lying on its side on the ground.

Other obstacles include heavy rocks and hot volcanic sediment limiting movement, a local disaster mitigation agency official said.

Mr Taufiq Ismail Marzuqi, a Lumajang resident and volunteer, said rescue efforts are "very dire" because of the severed bridge and volunteers lacking experience.

In a video he recorded, police and military officials try to excavate bodies with their bare hands.

BNPB will rebuild the wrecked homes, and heavy equipment including excavators and bulldozers is being deployed, its chief said.

Mr Thoriqul Haq, a local official in Lumajang, said earlier that sand miners had been trapped around their work sites.

Ten people who were trapped have been evacuated to safety, BNPB said.

President Joko Widodo has ordered the authorities to find and treat victims, the state secretary said.

Semeru had started emitting hot clouds and lava flows near its rivers recently, and the volcanology centre had warned people not to go near it since last Wednesday.

More than 3,600m high, it is one of Indonesia's nearly 130 active volcanoes.

It erupted in January, causing no casualties.

Indonesia straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth's crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.

- REUTERS

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